A draft sidewalk installation policy for the City of Stoughton is once again going back to the city’s Public Works committee for more clarification.
There’s some disagreement between alders and city staff on how much of it needs to be redone.
The latest draft was supposed to require a case-by-case consideration of sidewalks in existing neighborhoods. City attorney Matt Dregne argued that the language in the policy draft needed to be more specific, because some portions contradicted that intent.
“It seems to me that the way the policy is drafted staff prepares a plan based on these directives which is to include sidewalks in most cases on both sides of the street and in some cases on one side of the street,” he said in the meeting. Adding that it is a virtual rewrite of the draft.
After a discussion that mainly took place among alders Tim Riley (Dist. 1), Sid Boersma (D-1), Regina Hirsch (D-3) and Tom Majewski (D-3), the council unanimously agreed at the July 28 meeting to send the draft back to Public Works for review.
The current policy, written in 1997, requires sidewalks to be installed on both sides of streets during new construction, as well as during the reconstruction of streets that do not have them. It states that sidewalks promote safety for children to and from school and facilitate exercise.
Alders and public works department staff have been in negotiations to rewrite the sidewalk policy for at least 10 months.
Historically, sidewalk installation has been a contentious issue because of the cost to homeowners associated with putting them in – a 50-50 split for retrofits. The most recent controversy that prompted a revisit of the policy was a proposal for sidewalk installation in an old neighborhood near Page Street just north of the downtown.
Riley, who lives in that Sarah E. Turner neighborhood and lives in a home that would be charged, has been outspoken against installing sidewalks in that part of the city saying it destroys the character of the neighborhood. He called the current policy “disgusting” and “a blanket policy” that does not consider individual needs of neighborhoods.
“This is such a vast improvement over that disgusting policy that we had so much trouble with,” he said.
During discussion at the meeting, both Dregne and Hirsch described examples of where they thought the policy draft needed more clarification.
Part of the draft policy reads that street and sidewalk projects shall consider elements such as accessibility requirements under the American Disabilities Act, vehicular and pedestrian traffic volume and potential environmental impact, such as trees and wetland.
Hirsch questioned when in the approval process of sidewalk installation should these considerations be brought up, and how the public works committee should weigh them in making a recommendation to the council over whether sidewalks should be installed.
“If we are considering ADA accessibility, that’s great, but that would mean sidewalks on both sides (of the street),” Hirsch said.
Under that same section, the draft policy states sidewalks will be installed on both sides of the street during major reconstruction on all collector streets, key routes to schools, key routes to parks and routes with heavy foot traffic; and on one side of “local streets” when the streets are not identified as having the above criteria.
Dregne said this portion of the policy is the opposite of the intent. If the intent is to consider installation of sidewalks in existing neighborhoods on a case-by-case basis, that language needs to be clearly spelled out, he explained.
Hirsch asked how it would be determined which side of the streets would receive the sidewalk. Her concern was that if a sidewalk only goes on one side of the street, those residents will pay disproportionately, as their neighbors across the street would be able to use the sidewalks, but not have additional costs.
Hirsch warned a situation like that could also be contentious.
“Is it a lottery system that who gets the sidewalk, because then all of the sudden your neighbor is paying for sidewalks and you get off scot-free,” she said.
“You either win the lottery or not — I see that as being a big problem,” she later added.
Mayor Tim Swadley said the cost and who pays for special assessment on sidewalks can be adjusted in the future, and he added the Finance committee is discussing those options.